Part 6 out of 16
"So it would seem," said Wenceslas, as he came in, "that Stidmann has
been here while I went to see him."
"Indeed!" said Hortense, with the angry irony of an offended woman who
uses words to stab.
"Certainly," said Wenceslas, affecting surprise. "We have just met."
"Well, yesterday I deceived you, my darling love; and your mother
shall judge between us."
This candor unlocked his wife's heart. All really lofty women like the
truth better than lies. They cannot bear to see their idol smirched;
they want to be proud of the despotism they bow to.
There is a strain of this feeling in the devotion of the Russians to
"Now, listen, dear mother," Wenceslas went on. "I so truly love my
sweet and kind Hortense, that I concealed from her the extent of our
poverty. What could I do? She was still nursing the boy, and such
troubles would have done her harm; you know what the risk is for a
woman. Her beauty, youth, and health are imperiled. Did I do wrong?
--She believes that we owe five thousand francs; but I owe five
thousand more. The day before yesterday we were in the depths! No one
on earth will lend to us artists. Our talents are not less
untrustworthy than our whims. I knocked in vain at every door. Lisbeth,
indeed, offered us her savings."
"Poor soul!" said Hortense.
"Poor soul!" said the Baroness.
"But what are Lisbeth's two thousand francs? Everything to her,
nothing to us.--Then, as you know, Hortense, she spoke to us of Madame
Marneffe, who, as she owes so much to the Baron, out of a sense of
honor, will take no interest. Hortense wanted to send her diamonds to
the Mont-de-Piete; they would have brought in a few thousand francs,
but we needed ten thousand. Those ten thousand francs were to be had
free of interest for a year!--I said to myself, 'Hortense will be none
the wiser; I will go and get them.'
"Then the woman asked me to dinner through my father-in-law, giving me
to understand that Lisbeth had spoken of the matter, and I should have
the money. Between Hortense's despair on one hand, and the dinner on
the other, I could not hesitate.--That is all.
"What! could Hortense, at four-and-twenty, lovely, pure, and virtuous,
and all my pride and glory, imagine that, when I have never left her
since we married, I could now prefer--what?--a tawny, painted, ruddled
creature?" said he, using the vulgar exaggeration of the studio to
convince his wife by the vehemence that women like.
"Oh! if only your father had ever spoken so----!" cried the Baroness.
Hortense threw her arms round her husband's neck.
"Yes, that is what I should have done," said her mother. "Wenceslas,
my dear fellow, your wife was near dying of it," she went on very
seriously. "You see how well she loves you. And, alas--she is yours!"
She sighed deeply.
"He may make a martyr of her, or a happy woman," thought she to
herself, as every mother thinks when she sees her daughter married.
--"It seems to me," she said aloud, "that I am miserable enough to
hope to see my children happy."
"Be quite easy, dear mamma," said Wenceslas, only too glad to see this
critical moment end happily. "In two months I shall have repaid that
dreadful woman. How could I help it," he went on, repeating this
essentially Polish excuse with a Pole's grace; "there are times when a
man would borrow of the Devil.--And, after all, the money belongs to
the family. When once she had invited me, should I have got the money
at all if I had responded to her civility with a rude refusal?"
"Oh, mamma, what mischief papa is bringing on us!" cried Hortense.
The Baroness laid her finger on her daughter's lips, aggrieved by this
complaint, the first blame she had ever uttered of a father so
heroically screened by her mother's magnanimous silence.
"Now, good-bye, my children," said Madame Hulot. "The storm is over.
But do not quarrel any more."
When Wenceslas and his wife returned to their room after letting out
the Baroness, Hortense said to her husband:
"Tell me all about last evening."
And she watched his face all through the narrative, interrupting him
by the questions that crowd on a wife's mind in such circumstances.
The story made Hortense reflect; she had a glimpse of the infernal
dissipation which an artist must find in such vicious company.
"Be honest, my Wenceslas; Stidmann was there, Claude Vignon,
Vernisset.--Who else? In short, it was good fun?"
"I, I was thinking of nothing but our ten thousand francs, and I was
saying to myself, 'My Hortense will be freed from anxiety.'"
This catechism bored the Livonian excessively; he seized a gayer
moment to say:
"And you, my dearest, what would you have done if your artist had
"I," said she, with an air of prompt decision, "I should have taken up
Stidmann--not that I love him, of course!"
"Hortense!" cried Steinbock, starting to his feet with a sudden and
theatrical emphasis. "You would not have had the chance--I would have
Hortense threw herself into his arms, clasping him closely enough to
stifle him, and covered him with kisses, saying:
"Ah, you do love me! I fear nothing!--But no more Marneffe. Never go
plunging into such horrible bogs."
"I swear to you, my dear Hortense, that I will go there no more,
excepting to redeem my note of hand."
She pouted at this, but only as a loving woman sulks to get something
for it. Wenceslas, tired out with such a morning's work, went off to
his studio to make a clay sketch of the /Samson and Delilah/, for
which he had the drawings in his pocket.
Hortense, penitent for her little temper, and fancying that her
husband was annoyed with her, went to the studio just as the sculptor
had finished handling the clay with the impetuosity that spurs an
artist when the mood is on him. On seeing his wife, Wenceslas hastily
threw the wet wrapper over the group, and putting both arms round her,
"We were not really angry, were we, my pretty puss?"
Hortense had caught sight of the group, had seen the linen thrown over
it, and had said nothing; but as she was leaving, she took off the
rag, looked at the model, and asked:
"What is that?"
"A group for which I had just had an idea."
"And why did you hide it?"
"I did not mean you to see it till it was finished."
"The woman is very pretty," said Hortense.
And a thousand suspicions cropped up in her mind, as, in India, tall,
rank plants spring up in a night-time.
By the end of three weeks, Madame Marneffe was intensely irritated by
Hortense. Women of that stamp have a pride of their own; they insist
that men shall kiss the devil's hoof; they have no forgiveness for the
virtue that does not quail before their dominion, or that even holds
its own against them. Now, in all that time Wenceslas had not paid one
visit in the Rue Vanneau, not even that which politeness required to a
woman who had sat for Delilah.
Whenever Lisbeth called on the Steinbocks, there had been nobody at
home. Monsieur and madame lived in the studio. Lisbeth, following the
turtle doves to their nest at le Gros-Caillou, found Wenceslas hard at
work, and was informed by the cook that madame never left monsieur's
side. Wenceslas was a slave to the autocracy of love. So now Valerie,
on her own account, took part with Lisbeth in her hatred of Hortense.
Women cling to a lover that another woman is fighting for, just as
much as men do to women round whom many coxcombs are buzzing. Thus any
reflections /a propos/ to Madame Marneffe are equally applicable to
any lady-killing rake; he is, in fact, a sort of male courtesan.
Valerie's last fancy was a madness; above all, she was bent on getting
her group; she was even thinking of going one morning to the studio to
see Wenceslas, when a serious incident arose of the kind which, to a
woman of that class, may be called the spoil of war.
This is how Valerie announced this wholly personal event.
She was breakfasting with Lisbeth and her husband.
"I say, Marneffe, what would you say to being a second time a father?"
"You don't mean it--a baby?--Oh, let me kiss you!"
He rose and went round the table; his wife held up her head so that he
could just kiss her hair.
"If that is so," he went on, "I am head-clerk and officer of the
Legion of Honor at once. But you must understand, my dear, Stanislas
is not to be the sufferer, poor little man."
"Poor little man?" Lisbeth put in. "You have not set your eyes on him
these seven months. I am supposed to be his mother at the school; I am
the only person in the house who takes any trouble about him."
"A brat that costs us a hundred crowns a quarter!" said Valerie. "And
he, at any rate, is your own child, Marneffe. You ought to pay for his
schooling out of your salary.--The newcomer, far from reminding us of
butcher's bills, will rescue us from want."
"Valerie," replied Marneffe, assuming an attitude like Crevel, "I hope
that Monsieur le Baron Hulot will take proper charge of his son, and
not lay the burden on a poor clerk. I intend to keep him well up to
the mark. So take the necessary steps, madame! Get him to write you
letters in which he alludes to his satisfaction, for he is rather
backward in coming forward in regard to my appointment."
And Marneffe went away to the office, where his chief's precious
leniency allowed him to come in at about eleven o'clock. And, indeed,
he did little enough, for his incapacity was notorious, and he
No sooner were they alone than Lisbeth and Valerie looked at each
other for a moment like Augurs, and both together burst into a loud
fit of laughter.
"I say, Valerie--is it the fact?" said Lisbeth, "or merely a farce?"
"It is a physical fact!" replied Valerie. "Now, I am sick and tired of
Hortense; and it occurred to me in the night that I might fire this
infant, like a bomb, into the Steinbock household."
Valerie went back to her room, followed by Lisbeth, to whom she showed
the following letter:--
"WENCESLAS MY DEAR,--I still believe in your love, though it is
nearly three weeks since I saw you. Is this scorn? Delilah can
scarcely believe that. Does it not rather result from the tyranny
of a woman whom, as you told me, you can no longer love?
Wenceslas, you are too great an artist to submit to such dominion.
Home is the grave of glory.--Consider now, are you the Wenceslas
of the Rue du Doyenne? You missed fire with my father's statue;
but in you the lover is greater than the artist, and you have had
better luck with his daughter. You are a father, my beloved
"If you do not come to me in the state I am in, your friends would
think very badly of you. But I love you so madly, that I feel I
should never have the strength to curse you. May I sign myself as
"What do you say to my scheme for sending this note to the studio at a
time when our dear Hortense is there by herself?" asked Valerie. "Last
evening I heard from Stidmann that Wenceslas is to pick him up at
eleven this morning to go on business to Chanor's; so that gawk
Hortense will be there alone."
"But after such a trick as that," replied Lisbeth, "I cannot continue
to be your friend in the eyes of the world; I shall have to break with
you, to be supposed never to visit you, or even to speak to you."
"Evidently," said Valerie; "but--"
"Oh! be quite easy," interrupted Lisbeth; "we shall often meet when I
am Madame la Marechale. They are all set upon it now. Only the Baron
is in ignorance of the plan, but you can talk him over."
"Well," said Valerie, "but it is quite likely that the Baron and I may
be on distant terms before long."
"Madame Olivier is the only person who can make Hortense demand to see
the letter," said Lisbeth. "And you must send her to the Rue
Saint-Dominique before she goes on to the studio."
"Our beauty will be at home, no doubt," said Valerie, ringing for
Reine to call up Madame Olivier.
Ten minutes after the despatch of this fateful letter, Baron Hulot
arrived. Madame Marneffe threw her arms round the old man's neck with
"Hector, you are a father!" she said in his ear. "That is what comes
of quarreling and making friends again----"
Perceiving a look of surprise, which the Baron did not at once
conceal, Valerie assumed a reserve which brought the old man to
despair. She made him wring the proofs from her one by one. When
conviction, led on by vanity, had at last entered his mind, she
enlarged on Monsieur Marneffe's wrath.
"My dear old veteran," said she, "you can hardly avoid getting your
responsible editor, our representative partner if you like, appointed
head-clerk and officer of the Legion of Honor, for you really have
done for the poor man, he adores his Stanislas, the little monstrosity
who is so like him, that to me he is insufferable. Unless you prefer
to settle twelve hundred francs a year on Stanislas--the capital to be
his, and the life-interest payable to me, of course--"
"But if I am to settle securities, I would rather it should be on my
own son, and not on the monstrosity," said the Baron.
This rash speech, in which the words "my own son" came out as full as
a river in flood, was, by the end of the hour, ratified as a formal
promise to settle twelve hundred francs a year on the future boy. And
this promise became, on Valerie's tongue and in her countenance, what
a drum is in the hands of a child; for three weeks she played on it
At the moment when Baron Hulot was leaving the Rue Vanneau, as happy
as a man who after a year of married life still desires an heir,
Madame Olivier had yielded to Hortense, and given up the note she was
instructed to give only into the Count's own hands. The young wife
paid twenty francs for that letter. The wretch who commits suicide
must pay for the opium, the pistol, the charcoal.
Hortense read and re-read the note; she saw nothing but this sheet of
white paper streaked with black lines; the universe held for her
nothing but that paper; everything was dark around her. The glare of
the conflagration that was consuming the edifice of her happiness
lighted up the page, for blackest night enfolded her. The shouts of
her little Wenceslas at play fell on her ear, as if he had been in the
depths of a valley and she on a high mountain. Thus insulted at
four-and-twenty, in all the splendor of her beauty, enhanced by pure
and devoted love--it was not a stab, it was death. The first shock had
been merely on the nerves, the physical frame had struggled in the
grip of jealousy; but now certainty had seized her soul, her body was
For about ten minutes Hortense sat under the incubus of this
oppression. Then a vision of her mother appeared before her, and
revulsion ensued; she was calm and cool, and mistress of her reason.
"Get Louise to help you, child," said she to the cook. "As quickly as
you can, pack up everything that belongs to me and everything wanted
for the little boy. I give you an hour. When all is ready, fetch a
hackney coach from the stand, and call me.
"Make no remarks! I am leaving the house, and shall take Louise with
me. You must stay here with monsieur; take good care of him----"
She went into her room, and wrote the following letter:--
"MONSIEUR LE COMTE,--
"The letter I enclose will sufficiently account for the
determination I have come to.
"When you read this, I shall have left your house and have found
refuge with my mother, taking our child with me.
"Do not imagine that I shall retrace my steps. Do not imagine that
I am acting with the rash haste of youth, without reflection, with
the anger of offended affection; you will be greatly mistaken.
"I have been thinking very deeply during the last fortnight of
life, of love, of our marriage, of our duties to each other. I
have known the perfect devotion of my mother; she has told me all
her sorrows! She has been heroical--every day for twenty-three
years. But I have not the strength to imitate her, not because I
love you less than she loves my father, but for reasons of spirit
and nature. Our home would be a hell; I might lose my head so far
as to disgrace you--disgrace myself and our child.
"I refuse to be a Madame Marneffe; once launched on such a course,
a woman of my temper might not, perhaps, be able to stop. I am,
unfortunately for myself, a Hulot, not a Fischer.
"Alone, and absent from the scene of your dissipations, I am sure
of myself, especially with my child to occupy me, and by the side
of a strong and noble mother, whose life cannot fail to influence
the vehement impetuousness of my feelings. There, I can be a good
mother, bring our boy up well, and live. Under your roof the wife
would oust the mother; and constant contention would sour my
"I can accept a death-blow, but I will not endure for
twenty-five years, like my mother. If, at the end of three years of
perfect, unwavering love, you can be unfaithful to me with your
father-in-law's mistress, what rivals may I expect to have in later
years? Indeed, monsieur, you have begun your career of profligacy
much earlier than my father did, the life of dissipation, which is
a disgrace to the father of a family, which undermines the respect
of his children, and which ends in shame and despair.
"I am not unforgiving. Unrelenting feelings do not beseem erring
creatures living under the eye of God. If you win fame and fortune
by sustained work, if you have nothing to do with courtesans and
ignoble, defiling ways, you will find me still a wife worthy of
"I believe you to be too much a gentleman, Monsieur le Comte, to
have recourse to the law. You will respect my wishes, and leave me
under my mother's roof. Above all, never let me see you there. I
have left all the money lent to you by that odious woman.--
This letter was written in anguish. Hortense abandoned herself to the
tears, the outcries of murdered love. She laid down her pen and took
it up again, to express as simply as possible all that passion
commonly proclaims in this sort of testamentary letter. Her heart went
forth in exclamations, wailing and weeping; but reason dictated the
Informed by Louise that all was ready, the young wife slowly went
round the little garden, through the bedroom and drawing-room, looking
at everything for the last time. Then she earnestly enjoined the cook
to take the greatest care for her master's comfort, promising to
reward her handsomely if she would be honest. At last she got into the
hackney coach to drive to her mother's house, her heart quite broken,
crying so much as to distress the maid, and covering little Wenceslas
with kisses, which betrayed her still unfailing love for his father.
The Baroness knew already from Lisbeth that the father-in-law was
largely to blame for the son-in-law's fault; nor was she surprised to
see her daughter, whose conduct she approved, and she consented to
give her shelter. Adeline, perceiving that her own gentleness and
patience had never checked Hector, for whom her respect was indeed
fast diminishing, thought her daughter very right to adopt another
In three weeks the poor mother had suffered two wounds of which the
pain was greater than any ill-fortune she had hitherto endured. The
Baron had placed Victorin and his wife in great difficulties; and
then, by Lisbeth's account, he was the cause of his son-in-law's
misconduct, and had corrupted Wenceslas. The dignity of the father of
the family, so long upheld by her really foolish self-sacrifice, was
now overthrown. Though they did not regret the money the young Hulots
were full alike of doubts and uneasiness as regarded the Baron. This
sentiment, which was evidence enough, distressed the Baroness; she
foresaw a break-up of the family tie.
Hortense was accommodated in the dining-room, arranged as a bedroom
with the help of the Marshal's money, and the anteroom became the
dining-room, as it is in many apartments.
When Wenceslas returned home and had read the two letters, he felt a
kind of gladness mingled with regret. Kept so constantly under his
wife's eye, so to speak, he had inwardly rebelled against this fresh
thraldom, /a la/ Lisbeth. Full fed with love for three years past, he
too had been reflecting during the last fortnight; and he found a
family heavy on his hands. He had just been congratulated by Stidmann
on the passion he had inspired in Valerie; for Stidmann, with an
under-thought that was not unnatural, saw that he might flatter the
husband's vanity in the hope of consoling the victim. And Wenceslas
was glad to be able to return to Madame Marneffe.
Still, he remembered the pure and unsullied happiness he had known,
the perfections of his wife, her judgment, her innocent and guileless
affection,--and he regretted her acutely. He thought of going at once
to his mother-in-law's to crave forgiveness; but, in fact, like Hulot
and Crevel, he went to Madame Marneffe, to whom he carried his wife's
letter to show her what a disaster she had caused, and to discount his
misfortune, so to speak, by claiming in return the pleasures his
mistress could give him.
He found Crevel with Valerie. The mayor, puffed up with pride, marched
up and down the room, agitated by a storm of feelings. He put himself
into position as if he were about to speak, but he dared not. His
countenance was beaming, and he went now and again to the window,
where he drummed on the pane with his fingers. He kept looking at
Valerie with a glance of tender pathos. Happily for him, Lisbeth
presently came in.
"Cousin Betty," he said in her ear, "have you heard the news? I am a
father! It seems to me I love my poor Celestine the less.--Oh! what a
thing it is to have a child by the woman one idolizes! It is the
fatherhood of the heart added to that of the flesh! I say--tell
Valerie that I will work for that child--it shall be rich. She tells
me she has some reason for believing that it will be a boy! If it is a
boy, I shall insist on his being called Crevel. I will consult my
notary about it."
"I know how much she loves you," said Lisbeth. "But for her sake in
the future, and for your own, control yourself. Do not rub your hands
every five minutes."
While Lisbeth was speaking aside on this wise to Crevel, Valerie had
asked Wenceslas to give her back her letter, and she was saying things
that dispelled all his griefs.
"So now you are free, my dear," said she. "Ought any great artist to
marry? You live only by fancy and freedom! There, I shall love you so
much, beloved poet, that you shall never regret your wife. At the same
time, if, like so many people, you want to keep up appearances, I
undertake to bring Hortense back to you in a very short time."
"Oh, if only that were possible!"
"I am certain of it," said Valerie, nettled. "Your poor father-in-law
is a man who is in every way utterly done for; who wants to appear as
though he could be loved, out of conceit, and to make the world
believe that he has a mistress; and he is so excessively vain on this
point, that I can do what I please with him. The Baroness is still so
devoted to her old Hector--I always feel as if I were talking of the
/Iliad/--that these two old folks will contrive to patch up matters
between you and Hortense. Only, if you want to avoid storms at home
for the future, do not leave me for three weeks without coming to see
your mistress--I was dying of it. My dear boy, some consideration is
due from a gentleman to a woman he has so deeply compromised,
especially when, as in my case, she has to be very careful of her
"Stay to dinner, my darling--and remember that I must treat you with
all the more apparent coldness because you are guilty of this too
Baron Montes was presently announced; Valerie rose and hurried forward
to meet him; she spoke a few sentences in his ear, enjoining on him
the same reserve as she had impressed on Wenceslas; the Brazilian
assumed a diplomatic reticence suitable to the great news which filled
him with delight, for he, at any rate was sure of his paternity.
Thanks to these tactics, based on the vanity of the man in the lover
stage of his existence, Valerie sat down to table with four men, all
pleased and eager to please, all charmed, and each believing himself
adored; called by Marneffe, who included himself, in speaking to
Lisbeth, the five Fathers of the Church.
Baron Hulot alone at first showed an anxious countenance, and this was
why. Just as he was leaving the office, the head of the staff of
clerks had come to his private room--a General with whom he had served
for thirty years--and Hulot had spoken to him as to appointing
Marneffe to Coquet's place, Coquet having consented to retire.
"My dear fellow," said he, "I would not ask this favor of the Prince
without our having agreed on the matter, and knowing that you
"My good friend," replied the other, "you must allow me to observe
that, for your own sake, you should not insist on this nomination. I
have already told you my opinion. There would be a scandal in the
office, where there is a great deal too much talk already about you
and Madame Marneffe. This, of course, is between ourselves. I have no
wish to touch you on a sensitive spot, or disoblige you in any way,
and I will prove it. If you are determined to get Monsieur Coquet's
place, and he will really be a loss in the War Office, for he has been
here since 1809, I will go into the country for a fortnight, so as to
leave the field open between you and the Marshal, who loves you as a
son. Then I shall take neither part, and shall have nothing on my
conscience as an administrator."
"Thank you very much," said Hulot. "I will reflect on what you have
"In allowing myself to say so much, my dear friend, it is because your
personal interest is far more deeply implicated than any concern or
vanity of mine. In the first place, the matter lies entirely with the
Marshal. And then, my good fellow, we are blamed for so many things,
that one more or less! We are not at the maiden stage in our
experience of fault-finding. Under the Restoration, men were put in
simply to give them places, without any regard for the office.--We are
"Yes," the Baron put in; "and it is in order not to impair our old and
valued friendship that I--"
"Well, well," said the departmental manager, seeing Hulot's face
clouded with embarrassment, "I will take myself off, old fellow.--But
I warn you! you have enemies--that is to say, men who covet your
splendid appointment, and you have but one anchor out. Now if, like
me, you were a Deputy, you would have nothing to fear; so mind what
you are about."
This speech, in the most friendly spirit, made a deep impression on
the Councillor of State.
"But, after all, Roger, what is it that is wrong? Do not make any
mysteries with me."
The individual addressed as Roger looked at Hulot, took his hand, and
"We are such old friends, that I am bound to give you warning. If you
want to keep your place, you must make a bed for yourself, and instead
of asking the Marshal to give Coquet's place to Marneffe, in your
place I would beg him to use his influence to reserve a seat for me on
the General Council of State; there you may die in peace, and, like
the beaver, abandon all else to the pursuers."
"What, do you think the Marshal would forget--"
"The Marshal has already taken your part so warmly at a General
Meeting of the Ministers, that you will not now be turned out; but it
was seriously discussed! So give them no excuse. I can say no more. At
this moment you may make your own terms; you may sit on the Council of
State and be made a Peer of the Chamber. If you delay too long, if you
give any one a hold against you, I can answer for nothing.--Now, am I
"Wait a little. I will see the Marshal," replied Hulot, "and I will
send my brother to see which way the wind blows at headquarters."
The humor in which the Baron came back to Madame Marneffe's may be
imagined; he had almost forgotten his fatherhood, for Roger had taken
the part of a true and kind friend in explaining the position. At the
same time Valerie's influence was so great that, by the middle of
dinner, the Baron was tuned up to the pitch, and was all the more
cheerful for having unwonted anxieties to conceal; but the hapless man
was not yet aware that in the course of that evening he would find
himself in a cleft stick, between his happiness and the danger pointed
out by his friend--compelled, in short, to choose between Madame
Marneffe and his official position.
At eleven o'clock, when the evening was at its gayest, for the room
was full of company, Valerie drew Hector into a corner of her sofa.
"My dear old boy," said she, "your daughter is so annoyed at knowing
that Wenceslas comes here, that she has left him 'planted.' Hortense
is wrong-headed. Ask Wenceslas to show you the letter the little fool
has written to him.
"This division of two lovers, of which I am reputed to be the cause,
may do me the greatest harm, for this is how virtuous women undermine
each other. It is disgraceful to pose as a victim in order to cast the
blame on a woman whose only crime is that she keeps a pleasant house.
If you love me, you will clear my character by reconciling the sweet
"I do not in the least care about your son-in-law's visits; you
brought him here--take him away again! If you have any authority in
your family, it seems to me that you may very well insist on your
wife's patching up this squabble. Tell the worthy old lady from me,
that if I am unjustly charged with having caused a young couple to
quarrel, with upsetting the unity of a family, and annexing both the
father and the son-in-law, I will deserve my reputation by annoying
them in my own way! Why, here is Lisbeth talking of throwing me over!
She prefers to stick to her family, and I cannot blame her for it. She
will throw me over, says she, unless the young people make friends
again. A pretty state of things! Our expenses here will be trebled!"
"Oh, as for that!" said the Baron, on hearing of his daughter's strong
measures, "I will have no nonsense of that kind."
"Very well," said Valerie. "And now for the next thing.--What about
"That," said Hector, looking away, "is more difficult, not to say
"Impossible, my dear Hector?" said Madame Marneffe in the Baron's ear.
"But you do not know to what lengths Marneffe will go. I am completely
in his power; he is immoral for his own gratification, like most men,
but he is excessively vindictive, like all weak and impotent natures.
In the position to which you have reduced me, I am in his power. I am
bound to be on terms with him for a few days, and he is quite capable
of refusing to leave my room any more."
Hulot started with horror.
"He would leave me alone on condition of being head-clerk. It is
"Valerie, do you love me?"
"In the state in which I am, my dear, the question is the meanest
"Well, then--if I were to attempt, merely to attempt, to ask the
Prince for a place for Marneffe, I should be done for, and Marneffe
would be turned out."
"I thought that you and the Prince were such intimate friends."
"We are, and he has amply proved it; but, my child, there is authority
above the Marshal's--for instance, the whole Council of Ministers.
With time and a little tacking, we shall get there. But, to succeed, I
must wait till the moment when some service is required of me. Then I
can say one good turn deserves another--"
"If I tell Marneffe this tale, my poor Hector, he will play us some
mean trick. You must tell him yourself that he has to wait. I will not
undertake to do so. Oh! I know what my fate would be. He knows how to
punish me! He will henceforth share my room----
"Do not forget to settle the twelve hundred francs a year on the
Hulot, seeing his pleasures in danger, took Monsieur Marneffe aside,
and for the first time derogated from the haughty tone he had always
assumed towards him, so greatly was he horrified by the thought of
that half-dead creature in his pretty young wife's bedroom.
"Marneffe, my dear fellow," said he, "I have been talking of you
to-day. But you cannot be promoted to the first class just yet. We
must have time."
"I will be, Monsieur le Baron," said Marneffe shortly.
"But, my dear fellow--"
"I /will/ be, Monsieur le Baron," Marneffe coldly repeated, looking
alternately at the Baron and at Valerie. "You have placed my wife in a
position that necessitates her making up her differences with me, and
I mean to keep her; for, /my dear fellow/, she is a charming
creature," he added, with crushing irony. "I am master here--more than
you are at the War Office."
The Baron felt one of those pangs of fury which have the effect, in
the heart, of a fit of raging toothache, and he could hardly conceal
the tears in his eyes.
During this little scene, Valerie had been explaining Marneffe's
imaginary determination to Montes, and thus had rid herself of him for
Of her four adherents, Crevel alone was exempted from the rule
--Crevel, the master of the little "bijou" apartment; and he displayed
on his countenance an air of really insolent beatitude,
notwithstanding the wordless reproofs administered by Valerie in
frowns and meaning grimaces. His triumphant paternity beamed in every
When Valerie was whispering a word of correction in his ear, he
snatched her hand, and put in:
"To-morrow, my Duchess, you shall have your own little house! The
papers are to be signed to-morrow."
"And the furniture?" said she, with a smile.
"I have a thousand shares in the Versailles /rive gauche/ railway. I
bought them at twenty-five, and they will go up to three hundred in
consequence of the amalgamation of the two lines, which is a secret
told to me. You shall have furniture fit for a queen. But then you
will be mine alone henceforth?"
"Yes, burly Maire," said this middle-class Madame de Merteuil. "But
behave yourself; respect the future Madame Crevel."
"My dear cousin," Lisbeth was saying to the Baron, "I shall go to see
Adeline early to-morrow; for, as you must see, I cannot, with any
decency, remain here. I will go and keep house for your brother the
"I am going home this evening," said Hulot.
"Very well, you will see me at breakfast to-morrow," said Lisbeth,
She understood that her presence would be necessary at the family
scene that would take place on the morrow. And the very first thing in
the morning she went to see Victorin and to tell him that Hortense and
Wenceslas had parted.
When the Baron went home at half-past ten, Mariette and Louise, who
had had a hard day, were locking up the apartment. Hulot had not to
Very much put out at this compulsory virtue, the husband went straight
to his wife's room, and through the half-open door he saw her kneeling
before her Crucifix, absorbed in prayer, in one of those attitudes
which make the fortune of the painter or the sculptor who is so happy
to invent and then to express them. Adeline, carried away by her
enthusiasm, was praying aloud:
"O God, have mercy and enlighten him!"
The Baroness was praying for her Hector.
At this sight, so unlike what he had just left, and on hearing this
petition founded on the events of the day, the Baron heaved a sigh of
deep emotion. Adeline looked round, her face drowned in tears. She was
so convinced that her prayer had been heard, that, with one spring,
she threw her arms round Hector with the impetuosity of happy
affection. Adeline had given up all a wife's instincts; sorrow had
effaced even the memory of them. No feeling survived in her but those
of motherhood, of the family honor, and the pure attachment of a
Christian wife for a husband who has gone astray--the saintly
tenderness which survives all else in a woman's soul.
"Hector!" she said, "are you come back to us? Has God taken pity on
"Dear Adeline," replied the Baron, coming in and seating his wife by
his side on a couch, "you are the saintliest creature I ever knew; I
have long known myself to be unworthy of you."
"You would have very little to do, my dear," said she, holding Hulot's
hand and trembling so violently that it was as though she had a palsy,
"very little to set things in order--"
She dared not proceed; she felt that every word would be a reproof,
and she did not wish to mar the happiness with which this meeting was
inundating her soul.
"It is Hortense who has brought me here," said Hulot. "That child may
do us far more harm by her hasty proceeding than my absurd passion for
Valerie has ever done. But we will discuss all this to-morrow morning.
Hortense is asleep, Mariette tells me; we will not disturb her."
"Yes," said Madame Hulot, suddenly plunged into the depths of grief.
She understood that the Baron's return was prompted not so much by the
wish to see his family as by some ulterior interest.
"Leave her in peace till to-morrow," said the mother. "The poor child
is in a deplorable condition; she has been crying all day."
At nine the next morning, the Baron, awaiting his daughter, whom he
had sent for, was pacing the large, deserted drawing-room, trying to
find arguments by which to conquer the most difficult form of
obstinacy there is to deal with--that of a young wife, offended and
implacable, as blameless youth ever is, in its ignorance of the
disgraceful compromises of the world, of its passions and interests.
"Here I am, papa," said Hortense in a tremulous voice, and looking
pale from her miseries.
Hulot, sitting down, took his daughter round the waist, and drew her
down to sit on his knee.
"Well, my child," said he, kissing her forehead, "so there are
troubles at home, and you have been hasty and headstrong? That is not
like a well-bred child. My Hortense ought not to have taken such a
decisive step as that of leaving her house and deserting her husband
on her own account, and without consulting her parents. If my darling
girl had come to see her kind and admirable mother, she would not have
given me this cruel pain I feel!--You do not know the world; it is
malignantly spiteful. People will perhaps say that your husband sent
you back to your parents. Children brought up as you were, on your
mother's lap, remain artless; maidenly passion like yours for
Wenceslas, unfortunately, makes no allowances; it acts on every
impulse. The little heart is moved, the head follows suit. You would
burn down Paris to be revenged, with no thought of the courts of
"When your old father tells you that you have outraged the
proprieties, you may take his word for it.--I say nothing of the cruel
pain you have given me. It is bitter, I assure you, for you throw all
the blame on a woman of whose heart you know nothing, and whose
hostility may become disastrous. And you, alas! so full of guileless
innocence and purity, can have no suspicions; but you may be vilified
and slandered.--Besides, my darling pet, you have taken a foolish jest
too seriously. I can assure you, on my honor, that your husband is
blameless. Madame Marneffe--"
So far the Baron, artistically diplomatic, had formulated his
remonstrances very judiciously. He had, as may be observed, worked up
to the mention of this name with superior skill; and yet Hortense, as
she heard it, winced as if stung to the quick.
"Listen to me; I have had great experience, and I have seen much," he
went on, stopping his daughter's attempt to speak. "That lady is very
cold to your husband. Yes, you have been made the victim of a
practical joke, and I will prove it to you. Yesterday Wenceslas was
dining with her--"
"Dining with her!" cried the young wife, starting to her feet, and
looking at her father with horror in every feature. "Yesterday! After
having had my letter! Oh, great God!--Why did I not take the veil
rather than marry? But now my life is not my own! I have the child!"
and she sobbed.
Her weeping went to Madame Hulot's heart. She came out of her room and
ran to her daughter, taking her in her arms, and asking her those
questions, stupid with grief, which first rose to her lips.
"Now we have tears," said the Baron to himself, "and all was going so
well! What is to be done with women who cry?"
"My child," said the Baroness, "listen to your father! He loves us all
"Come, Hortense, my dear little girl, cry no more, you make yourself
too ugly!" said the Baron, "Now, be a little reasonable. Go sensibly
home, and I promise you that Wenceslas shall never set foot in that
woman's house. I ask you to make the sacrifice, if it is a sacrifice
to forgive the husband you love so small a fault. I ask you--for the
sake of my gray hairs, and of the love you owe your mother. You do not
want to blight my later years with bitterness and regret?"
Hortense fell at her father's feet like a crazed thing, with the
vehemence of despair; her hair, loosely pinned up, fell about her, and
she held out her hands with an expression that painted her misery.
"Father," she said, "ask my life! Take it if you will, but at least
take it pure and spotless, and I will yield it up gladly. Do not ask
me to die in dishonor and crime. I am not at all like my husband; I
cannot swallow an outrage. If I went back under my husband's roof, I
should be capable of smothering him in a fit of jealousy--or of doing
worse! Do no exact from me a thing that is beyond my powers. Do not
have to mourn for me still living, for the least that can befall me is
to go mad. I feel madness close upon me!
"Yesterday, yesterday, he could dine with that woman, after having
read my letter?--Are other men made so? My life I give you, but do not
let my death be ignominious!--His fault?--A small one! When he has a
child by that woman!"
"A child!" cried Hulot, starting back a step or two. "Come. This is
really some fooling."
At this juncture Victorin and Lisbeth arrived, and stood dumfounded at
the scene. The daughter was prostrate at her father's feet. The
Baroness, speechless between her maternal feelings and her conjugal
duty, showed a harassed face bathed in tears.
"Lisbeth," said the Baron, seizing his cousin by the hand and pointing
to Hortense, "you can help me here. My poor child's brain is turned;
she believes that her Wenceslas is Madame Marneffe's lover, while all
that Valerie wanted was to have a group by him."
"/Delilah/!" cried the young wife. "The only thing he has done since
our marriage. The man would not work for me or for his son, and he has
worked with frenzy for that good-for-nothing creature.--Oh, father,
kill me outright, for every word stabs like a knife!"
Lisbeth turned to the Baroness and Victorin, pointing with a pitying
shrug to the Baron, who could not see her.
"Listen to me," said she to him. "I had no idea--when you asked me to
go to lodge over Madame Marneffe and keep house for her--I had no idea
of what she was; but many things may be learned in three years. That
creature is a prostitute, and one whose depravity can only be compared
with that of her infamous and horrible husband. You are the dupe, my
lord pot-boiler, of those people; you will be led further by them than
you dream of! I speak plainly, for you are at the bottom of a pit."
The Baroness and her daughter, hearing Lisbeth speak in this style,
cast adoring looks at her, such as the devout cast at a Madonna for
having saved their life.
"That horrible woman was bent on destroying your son-in-law's home. To
what end?--I know not. My brain is not equal to seeing clearly into
these dark intrigues--perverse, ignoble, infamous! Your Madame
Marneffe does not love your son-in-law, but she will have him at her
feet out of revenge. I have just spoken to the wretched woman as she
deserves. She is a shameless courtesan; I have told her that I am
leaving her house, that I would not have my honor smirched in that
muck-heap.--I owe myself to my family before all else.
"I knew that Hortense had left her husband, so here I am. Your
Valerie, whom you believe to be a saint, is the cause of this
miserable separation; can I remain with such a woman? Our poor little
Hortense," said she, touching the Baron's arm, with peculiar meaning,
"is perhaps the dupe of a wish of such women as these, who, to possess
a toy, would sacrifice a family.
"I do not think Wenceslas guilty; but I think him weak, and I cannot
promise that he will not yield to her refinements of temptation.--My
mind is made up. The woman is fatal to you; she will bring you all to
utter ruin. I will not even seem to be concerned in the destruction of
my own family, after living there for three years solely to hinder it.
"You are cheated, Baron; say very positively that you will have
nothing to say to the promotion of that dreadful Marneffe, and you
will see then! There is a fine rod in pickle for you in that case."
Lisbeth lifted up Hortense and kissed her enthusiastically.
"My dear Hortense, stand firm," she whispered.
The Baroness embraced Lisbeth with the vehemence of a woman who sees
herself avenged. The whole family stood in perfect silence round the
father, who had wit enough to know what that silence implied. A storm
of fury swept across his brow and face with evident signs; the veins
swelled, his eyes were bloodshot, his flesh showed patches of color.
Adeline fell on her knees before him and seized his hands.
"My dear, forgive, my dear!"
"You loathe me!" cried the Baron--the cry of his conscience.
For we all know the secret of our own wrong-doing. We almost always
ascribe to our victims the hateful feelings which must fill them with
the hope of revenge; and in spite of every effort of hypocrisy, our
tongue or our face makes confession under the rack of some unexpected
anguish, as the criminal of old confessed under the hands of the
"Our children," he went on, to retract the avowal, "turn at last to be
"Father!" Victorin began.
"You dare to interrupt your father!" said the Baron in a voice of
thunder, glaring at his son.
"Father, listen to me," Victorin went on in a clear, firm voice, the
voice of a puritanical deputy. "I know the respect I owe you too well
ever to fail in it, and you will always find me the most respectful
and submissive of sons."
Those who are in the habit of attending the sittings of the Chamber
will recognize the tactics of parliamentary warfare in these
fine-drawn phrases, used to calm the factions while gaining time.
"We are far from being your enemies," his son went on. "I have
quarreled with my father-in-law, Monsieur Crevel, for having rescued
your notes of hand for sixty thousand francs from Vauvinet, and that
money is, beyond doubt, in Madame Marneffe's pocket.--I am not finding
fault with you, father," said he, in reply to an impatient gesture of
the Baron's; "I simply wish to add my protest to my cousin Lisbeth's,
and to point out to you that though my devotion to you as a father is
blind and unlimited, my dear father, our pecuniary resources,
unfortunately, are very limited."
"Money!" cried the excitable old man, dropping on to a chair, quite
crushed by this argument. "From my son!--You shall be repaid your
money, sir," said he, rising, and he went to the door.
At this cry the Baron turned round, suddenly showing his wife a face
bathed in tears; she threw her arms round him with the strength of
"Do not leave us thus--do not go away in anger. I have not said a word
At this heart-wrung speech the children fell at their father's feet.
"We all love you," said Hortense.
Lisbeth, as rigid as a statue, watched the group with a superior smile
on her lips. Just then Marshal Hulot's voice was heard in the
anteroom. The family all felt the importance of secrecy, and the scene
suddenly changed. The young people rose, and every one tried to hide
all traces of emotion.
A discussion was going on at the door between Mariette and a soldier,
who was so persistent that the cook came in.
"Monsieur, a regimental quartermaster, who says he is just come from
Algiers, insists on seeing you."
"Tell him to wait."
"Monsieur," said Mariette to her master in an undertone, "he told me
to tell you privately that it has to do with your uncle there."
The Baron started; he believed that the funds had been sent at last
which he had been asking for these two months, to pay up his bills; he
left the family-party, and hurried out to the anteroom.
"You are Monsieur de Paron Hulot?"
"Your own self?"
"My own self."
The man, who had been fumbling meanwhile in the lining of his cap,
drew out a letter, of which the Baron hastily broke the seal, and read
"DEAR NEPHEW,--Far from being able to send you the hundred
thousand francs you ask of me, my present position is not tenable
unless you can take some decisive steps to save me. We are saddled
with a public prosecutor who talks goody, and rhodomontades
nonsense about the management. It is impossible to get the
black-chokered pump to hold his tongue. If the War Minister allows
civilians to feed out of his hand, I am done for. I can trust the
bearer; try to get him promoted; he has done us good service. Do
not abandon me to the crows!"
This letter was a thunderbolt; the Baron could read in it the
intestine warfare between civil and military authorities, which to
this day hampers the Government, and he was required to invent on the
spot some palliative for the difficulty that stared him in the face.
He desired the soldier to come back next day, dismissing him with
splendid promises of promotion, and he returned to the drawing-room.
"Good-day and good-bye, brother," said he to the Marshal.--"Good-bye,
children.--Good-bye, my dear Adeline.--And what are you going to do,
Lisbeth?" he asked.
"I?--I am going to keep house for the Marshal, for I must end my days
doing what I can for one or another of you."
"Do not leave Valerie till I have seen you again," said Hulot in his
cousin's ear.--"Good-bye, Hortense, refractory little puss; try to be
reasonable. I have important business to be attended to at once; we
will discuss your reconciliation another time. Now, think it over, my
child," said he as he kissed her.
And he went away, so evidently uneasy, that his wife and children felt
the gravest apprehensions.
"Lisbeth," said the Baroness, "I must find out what is wrong with
Hector; I never saw him in such a state. Stay a day or two longer with
that woman; he tells her everything, and we can then learn what has so
suddenly upset him. Be quite easy; we will arrange your marriage to
the Marshal, for it is really necessary."
"I shall never forget the courage you have shown this morning," said
Hortense, embracing Lisbeth.
"You have avenged our poor mother," said Victorin.
The Marshal looked on with curiosity at all the display of affection
lavished on Lisbeth, who went off to report the scene to Valerie.
This sketch will enable guileless souls to understand what various
mischief Madame Marneffes may do in a family, and the means by which
they reach poor virtuous wives apparently so far out of their ken. And
then, if we only transfer, in fancy, such doings to the upper class of
society about a throne, and if we consider what kings' mistresses must
have cost them, we may estimate the debt owed by a nation to a
sovereign who sets the example of a decent and domestic life.
In Paris each ministry is a little town by itself, whence women are
banished; but there is just as much detraction and scandal as though
the feminine population were admitted there. At the end of three
years, Monsieur Marneffe's position was perfectly clear and open to
the day, and in every room one and another asked, "Is Marneffe to be,
or not to be, Coquet's successor?" Exactly as the question might have
been put to the Chamber, "Will the estimates pass or not pass?" The
smallest initiative on the part of the board of Management was
commented on; everything in Baron Hulot's department was carefully
noted. The astute State Councillor had enlisted on his side the victim
of Marneffe's promotion, a hard-working clerk, telling him that if he
could fill Marneffe's place, he would certainly succeed to it; he had
told him that the man was dying. So this clerk was scheming for
When Hulot went through his anteroom, full of visitors, he saw
Marneffe's colorless face in a corner, and sent for him before any one
"What do you want of me, my dear fellow?" said the Baron, disguising
"Monsieur le Directeur, I am the laughing-stock of the office, for it
has become known that the chief of the clerks has left this morning
for a holiday, on the ground of his health. He is to be away a month.
Now, we all know what waiting for a month means. You deliver me over
to the mockery of my enemies, and it is bad enough to be drummed upon
one side; drumming on both at once, monsieur, is apt to burst the
"My dear Marneffe, it takes long patience to gain an end. You cannot
be made head-clerk in less than two months, if ever. Just when I must,
as far as possible, secure my own position, is not the time to be
applying for your promotion, which would raise a scandal."
"If you are broke, I shall never get it," said Marneffe coolly. "And
if you get me the place, it will make no difference in the end."
"Then I am to sacrifice myself for you?" said the Baron.
"If you do not, I shall be much mistaken in you."
"You are too exclusively Marneffe, Monsieur Marneffe," said Hulot,
rising and showing the clerk the door.
"I have the honor to wish you good-morning, Monsieur le Baron," said
"What an infamous rascal!" thought the Baron. "This is uncommonly like
a summons to pay within twenty-four hours on pain of distraint."
Two hours later, just when the Baron had been instructing Claude
Vignon, whom he was sending to the Ministry of Justice to obtain
information as to the judicial authorities under whose jurisdiction
Johann Fischer might fall, Reine opened the door of his private room
and gave him a note, saying she would wait for the answer.
"Valerie is mad!" said the Baron to himself. "To send Reine! It is
enough to compromise us all, and it certainly compromises that
dreadful Marneffe's chances of promotion!"
But he dismissed the minister's private secretary, and read as
"Oh, my dear friend, what a scene I have had to endure! Though you
have made me happy for three years, I have paid dearly for it! He
came in from the office in a rage that made me quake. I knew he
was ugly; I have seen him a monster! His four real teeth
chattered, and he threatened me with his odious presence without
respite if I should continue to receive you. My poor, dear old
boy, our door is closed against you henceforth. You see my tears;
they are dropping on the paper and soaking it; can you read what I
write, dear Hector? Oh, to think of never seeing you, of giving
you up when I bear in me some of your life, as I flatter myself I
have your heart--it is enough to kill me. Think of our little
"Do not forsake me, but do not disgrace yourself for Marneffe's
sake; do not yield to his threats.
"I love you as I have never loved! I remember all the sacrifices
you have made for your Valerie; she is not, and never will be,
ungrateful; you are, and will ever be, my only husband. Think no
more of the twelve hundred francs a year I asked you to settle on
the dear little Hector who is to come some months hence; I will
not cost you anything more. And besides, my money will always be
"Oh, if you only loved me as I love you, my Hector, you would
retire on your pension; we should both take leave of our family,
our worries, our surroundings, so full of hatred, and we should go
to live with Lisbeth in some pretty country place--in Brittany, or
wherever you like. There we should see nobody, and we should be
happy away from the world. Your pension and the little property I
can call my own would be enough for us. You say you are jealous;
well, you would then have your Valerie entirely devoted to her
Hector, and you would never have to talk in a loud voice, as you
did the other day. I shall have but one child--ours--you may be
sure, my dearly loved old veteran.
"You cannot conceive of my fury, for you cannot know how he
treated me, and the foul words he vomited on your Valerie. Such
words would disgrace my paper; a woman such as I am--Montcornet's
daughter--ought never to have heard one of them in her life. I
only wish you had been there, that I might have punished him with
the sight of the mad passion I felt for you. My father would have
killed the wretch; I can only do as women do--love you devotedly!
Indeed, my love, in the state of exasperation in which I am, I
cannot possibly give up seeing you. I must positively see you, in
secret, every day! That is what we are, we women. Your resentment
is mine. If you love me, I implore you, do not let him be
promoted; leave him to die a second-class clerk.
"At this moment I have lost my head; I still seem to hear him
abusing me. Betty, who had meant to leave me, has pity on me, and
will stay for a few days.
"My dear kind love, I do not know yet what is to be done. I see
nothing for it but flight. I always delight in the country
--Brittany, Languedoc, what you will, so long as I am free to love
you. Poor dear, how I pity you! Forced now to go back to your old
Adeline, to that lachrymal urn--for, as he no doubt told you, the
monster means to watch me night and day; he spoke of a detective!
Do not come here, he is capable of anything I know, since he could
make use of me for the basest purposes of speculation. I only wish
I could return you all the things I have received from your
"Ah! my kind Hector, I may have flirted, and have seemed to you to
be fickle, but you did not know your Valerie; she liked to tease
you, but she loves you better than any one in the world.
"He cannot prevent your coming to see your cousin; I will arrange
with her that we have speech with each other. My dear old boy,
write me just a line, pray, to comfort me in the absence of your
dear self. (Oh, I would give one of my hands to have you by me on
our sofa!) A letter will work like a charm; write me something
full of your noble soul; I will return your note to you, for I
must be cautious; I should not know where to hide it, he pokes his
nose in everywhere. In short, comfort your Valerie, your little
wife, the mother of your child.--To think of my having to write to
you, when I used to see you every day. As I say to Lisbeth, 'I did
not know how happy I was.' A thousand kisses, dear boy. Be true to
"And tears!" said Hulot to himself as he finished this letter, "tears
which have blotted out her name.--How is she?" said he to Reine.
"Madame is in bed; she has dreadful spasms," replied Reine. "She had a
fit of hysterics that twisted her like a withy round a faggot. It came
on after writing. It comes of crying so much. She heard monsieur's
voice on the stairs."
The Baron in his distress wrote the following note on office paper
with a printed heading:--
"Be quite easy, my angel, he will die a second-class clerk!--Your
idea is admirable; we will go and live far from Paris, where we
shall be happy with our little Hector; I will retire on my
pension, and I shall be sure to find some good appointment on a
"Ah, my sweet friend, I feel so much the younger for your letter!
I shall begin life again and make a fortune, you will see, for our
dear little one. As I read your letter, a thousand times more
ardent than those of the /Nouvelle Heloise/, it worked a miracle!
I had not believed it possible that I could love you more. This
evening, at Lisbeth's you will see
"YOUR HECTOR, FOR LIFE."
Reine carried off this reply, the first letter the Baron had written
to his "sweet friend." Such emotions to some extent counterbalanced
the disasters growling in the distance; but the Baron, at this moment
believing he could certainly avert the blows aimed at his uncle,
Johann Fischer, thought only of the deficit.
One of the characteristics of the Bonapartist temperament is a firm
belief in the power of the sword, and confidence in the superiority of
the military over civilians. Hulot laughed to scorn the Public
Prosecutor in Algiers, where the War Office is supreme. Man is always
what he has once been. How can the officers of the Imperial Guard
forget that time was when the mayors of the largest towns in the
Empire and the Emperor's prefects, Emperors themselves on a minute
scale, would come out to meet the Imperial Guard, to pay their
respects on the borders of the Departments through which it passed,
and to do it, in short, the homage due to sovereigns?
At half-past four the baron went straight to Madame Marneffe's; his
heart beat as high as a young man's as he went upstairs, for he was
asking himself this question, "Shall I see her? or shall I not?"
How was he now to remember the scene of the morning when his weeping
children had knelt at his feet? Valerie's note, enshrined for ever in
a thin pocket-book over his heart, proved to him that she loved him
more than the most charming of young men.
Having rung, the unhappy visitor heard within the shuffling slippers
and vexatious scraping cough of the detestable master. Marneffe opened
the door, but only to put himself into an attitude and point to the
stairs, exactly as Hulot had shown him the door of his private room.
"You are too exclusively Hulot, Monsieur Hulot!" said he.
The Baron tried to pass him, Marneffe took a pistol out of his pocket
and cocked it.
"Monsieur le Baron," said he, "when a man is as vile as I am--for you
think me very vile, don't you?--he would be the meanest galley-slave
if he did not get the full benefit of his betrayed honor.--You are for
war; it will be hot work and no quarter. Come here no more, and do not
attempt to get past me. I have given the police notice of my position
with regard to you."
And taking advantage of Hulot's amazement, he pushed him out and shut
"What a low scoundrel!" said Hulot to himself, as he went upstairs to
Lisbeth. "I understand her letter now. Valerie and I will go away from
Paris. Valerie is wholly mine for the remainder of my days; she will
close my eyes."
Lisbeth was out. Madame Olivier told the Baron that she had gone to
his wife's house, thinking that she would find him there.
"Poor thing! I should never have expected her to be so sharp as she
was this morning," thought Hulot, recalling Lisbeth's behavior as he
made his way from the Rue Vanneau to the Rue Plumet.
As he turned the corner of the Rue Vanneau and the Rue de Babylone, he
looked back at the Eden whence Hymen had expelled him with the sword
of the law. Valerie, at her window, was watching his departure; as he
glanced up, she waved her handkerchief, but the rascally Marneffe hit
his wife's cap and dragged her violently away from the window. A tear
rose to the great official's eye.
"Oh! to be so well loved! To see a woman so ill used, and to be so
nearly seventy years old!" thought he.
Lisbeth had come to give the family the good news. Adeline and
Hortense had already heard that the Baron, not choosing to compromise
himself in the eyes of the whole office by appointing Marneffe to the
first class, would be turned from the door by the Hulot-hating
husband. Adeline, very happy, had ordered a dinner that her Hector was
to like better than any of Valerie's; and Lisbeth, in her devotion,
was helping Mariette to achieve this difficult result. Cousin Betty
was the idol of the hour. Mother and daughter kissed her hands, and
had told her with touching delight that the Marshal consented to have
her as his housekeeper.
"And from that, my dear, there is but one step to becoming his wife!"
"In fact, he did not say no when Victorin mentioned it," added the
The Baron was welcomed home with such charming proofs of affection, so
pathetically overflowing with love, that he was fain to conceal his
Marshal Hulot came to dinner. After dinner, Hector did not go out.
Victorin and his wife joined them, and they made up a rubber.
"It is a long time, Hector," said the Marshal gravely, "since you gave
us the treat of such an evening."
This speech from the old soldier, who spoiled his brother though he
thus implicitly blamed him, made a deep impression. It showed how wide
and deep were the wounds in a heart where all the woes he had divined
had found an echo. At eight o'clock the Baron insisted on seeing
Lisbeth home, promising to return.
"Do you know, Lisbeth, he ill-treats her!" said he in the street. "Oh,
I never loved her so well!"
"I never imagined that Valerie loved you so well," replied Lisbeth.
"She is frivolous and a coquette, she loves to have attentions paid
her, and to have the comedy of love-making performed for her, as she
says; but you are her only real attachment."
"What message did she send me?"
"Why, this," said Lisbeth. "She has, as you know, been on intimate
terms with Crevel. You must owe her no grudge, for that, in fact, is
what has raised her above utter poverty for the rest of her life; but
she detests him, and matters are nearly at an end.--Well, she has kept
the key of some rooms--"
"Rue du Dauphin!" cried the thrice-blest Baron. "If it were for that
alone, I would overlook Crevel.--I have been there; I know."
"Here, then, is the key," said Lisbeth. "Have another made from it in
the course of to-morrow--two if you can."
"And then," said Hulot eagerly.
"Well, I will dine at your house again to-morrow; you must give me
back Valerie's key, for old Crevel might ask her to return it to him,
and you can meet her there the day after; then you can decide what
your facts are to be. You will be quite safe, as there are two ways
out. If by chance Crevel, who is /Regence/ in his habits, as he is
fond of saying, should come in by the side street, you could go out
through the shop, or /vice versa/.
"You owe all this to me, you old villain; now what will you do for
"Whatever you want."
"Then you will not oppose my marrying your brother?"
"You! the Marechale Hulot, the Comtesse de Frozheim?" cried Hector,
"Well, Adeline is a Baroness!" retorted Betty in a vicious and
formidable tone. "Listen to me, you old libertine. You know how
matters stand; your family may find itself starving in the gutter--"
"That is what I dread," said Hulot in dismay.
"And if your brother were to die, who would maintain your wife and
daughter? The widow of a Marshal gets at least six thousand francs
pension, doesn't she? Well, then, I wish to marry to secure bread for
your wife and daughter--old dotard!"
"I had not seen it in that light!" said the Baron. "I will talk to my
brother--for we are sure of you.--Tell my angel that my life is hers."
And the Baron, having seen Lisbeth go into the house in the Rue
Vanneau, went back to his whist and stayed at home. The Baroness was
at the height of happiness; her husband seemed to be returning to
domestic habits; for about a fortnight he went to his office at nine
every morning, he came in to dinner at six, and spent the evening with
his family. He twice took Adeline and Hortense to the play. The mother
and daughter paid for three thanksgiving masses, and prayed to God to
suffer them to keep the husband and father He had restored to them.
One evening Victorin Hulot, seeing his father retire for the night,
said to his mother:
"Well, we are at any rate so far happy that my father has come back to
us. My wife and I shall never regret our capital if only this lasts--"
"Your father is nearly seventy," said the Baroness. "He still thinks
of Madame Marneffe, that I can see; but he will forget her in time. A
passion for women is not like gambling, or speculation, or avarice;
there is an end to it."
But Adeline, still beautiful in spite of her fifty years and her
sorrows, in this was mistaken. Profligates, men whom Nature has gifted
with the precious power of loving beyond the limits ordinarily set to
love, rarely are as old as their age.
During this relapse into virtue Baron Hulot had been three times to
the Rue du Dauphin, and had certainly not been the man of seventy. His
rekindled passion made him young again, and he would have sacrificed
his honor to Valerie, his family, his all, without a regret. But
Valerie, now completely altered, never mentioned money, not even the
twelve hundred francs a year to be settled on their son; on the
contrary, she offered him money, she loved Hulot as a woman of
six-and-thirty loves a handsome law-student--a poor, poetical, ardent
boy. And the hapless wife fancied she had reconquered her dear Hector!
The fourth meeting between this couple had been agreed upon at the end
of the third, exactly as formerly in Italian theatres the play was
announced for the next night. The hour fixed was nine in the morning.
On the next day when the happiness was due for which the amorous old
man had resigned himself to domestic rules, at about eight in the
morning, Reine came and asked to see the Baron. Hulot, fearing some
catastrophe, went out to speak with Reine, who would not come into the
anteroom. The faithful waiting-maid gave him the following note:--
"DEAR OLD MAN,--Do not go to the Rue du Dauphin. Our incubus is
ill, and I must nurse him; but be there this evening at nine.
Crevel is at Corbeil with Monsieur Lebas; so I am sure he will
bring no princess to his little palace. I have made arrangements
here to be free for the night and get back before Marneffe is
awake. Answer me as to all this, for perhaps your long elegy of a
wife no longer allows you your liberty as she did. I am told she
is still so handsome that you might play me false, you are such a
gay dog! Burn this note; I am suspicious of every one."
Hulot wrote this scrap in reply:
"MY LOVE,--As I have told you, my wife has not for five-and-twenty
years interfered with my pleasures. For you I would give up a
hundred Adelines.--I will be in the Crevel sanctum at nine this
evening awaiting my divinity. Oh that your clerk might soon die!
We should part no more. And this is the dearest wish of
That evening the Baron told his wife that he had business with the
Minister at Saint-Cloud, that he would come home at about four or five
in the morning; and he went to the Rue du Dauphin. It was towards the
end of the month of June.
Few men have in the course of their life known really the dreadful
sensation of going to their death; those who have returned from the
foot of the scaffold may be easily counted. But some have had a vivid
experience of it in dreams; they have gone through it all, to the
sensation of the knife at their throat, at the moment when waking and
daylight come to release them.--Well, the sensation to which the
Councillor of State was a victim at five in the morning in Crevel's
handsome and elegant bed, was immeasurably worse than that of feeling
himself bound to the fatal block in the presence of ten thousand
spectators looking at you with twenty thousand sparks of fire.
Valerie was asleep in a graceful attitude. She was lovely, as a woman
is who is lovely enough to look so even in sleep. It is art invading
nature; in short, a living picture.
In his horizontal position the Baron's eyes were but three feet above
the floor. His gaze, wandering idly, as that of a man who is just
awake and collecting his ideas, fell on a door painted with flowers by
Jan, an artist disdainful of fame. The Baron did not indeed see twenty
thousand flaming eyes, like the man condemned to death; he saw but
one, of which the shaft was really more piercing than the thousands on
the Public Square.
Now this sensation, far rarer in the midst of enjoyment even than that
of a man condemned to death, was one for which many a splenetic
Englishman would certainly pay a high price. The Baron lay there,
horizontal still, and literally bathed in cold sweat. He tried to
doubt the fact; but this murderous eye had a voice. A sound of
whispering was heard through the door.
"So long as it is nobody but Crevel playing a trick on me!" said the
Baron to himself, only too certain of an intruder in the temple.
The door was opened. The Majesty of the French Law, which in all
documents follows next to the King, became visible in the person of a
worthy little police-officer supported by a tall Justice of the Peace,
both shown in by Monsieur Marneffe. The police functionary, rooted in
shoes of which the straps were tied together with flapping bows, ended
at top in a yellow skull almost bare of hair, and a face betraying him
as a wide-awake, cheerful, and cunning dog, from whom Paris life had
no secrets. His eyes, though garnished with spectacles, pierced the
glasses with a keen mocking glance. The Justice of the Peace, a
retired attorney, and an old admirer of the fair sex, envied the
"Pray excuse the strong measures required by our office, Monsieur le
Baron!" said the constable; "we are acting for the plaintiff. The
Justice of the Peace is here to authorize the visitation of the
premises.--I know who you are, and who the lady is who is accused."
Valerie opened her astonished eyes, gave such a shriek as actresses
use to depict madness on the stage, writhed in convulsions on the bed,
like a witch of the Middle Ages in her sulphur-colored frock on a bed
"Death, and I am ready! my dear Hector--but a police court?--Oh!
With one bound she passed the three spectators and crouched under the
little writing-table, hiding her face in her hands.
"Ruin! Death!" she cried.
"Monsieur," said Marneffe to Hulot, "if Madame Marneffe goes mad, you
are worse than a profligate; you will be a murderer."
What can a man do, what can he say, when he is discovered in a bed
which is not his, even on the score of hiring, with a woman who is no
more his than the bed is?--Well, this:
"Monsieur the Justice of the Peace, Monsieur the Police Officer," said
the Baron with some dignity, "be good enough to take proper care of
that unhappy woman, whose reason seems to me to be in danger.--You can
harangue me afterwards. The doors are locked, no doubt; you need not
fear that she will get away, or I either, seeing the costume we wear."
The two functionaries bowed to the magnate's injunctions.
"You, come here, miserable cur!" said Hulot in a low voice to
Marneffe, taking him by the arm and drawing him closer. "It is not I,
but you, who will be the murderer! You want to be head-clerk of your
room and officer of the Legion of Honor?"
"That in the first place, Chief!" replied Marneffe, with a bow.
"You shall be all that, only soothe your wife and dismiss these
"Nay, nay!" said Marneffe knowingly. "These gentlemen must draw up
their report as eyewitnesses to the fact; without that, the chief
evidence in my case, where should I be? The higher official ranks are
chokeful of rascalities. You have done me out of my wife, and you have
not promoted me, Monsieur le Baron; I give you only two days to get
out of the scrape. Here are some letters--"
"Some letters!" interrupted Hulot.
"Yes; letters which prove that you are the father of the child my wife
expects to give birth to.--You understand? And you ought to settle on
my son a sum equal to what he will lose through this bastard. But I
will be reasonable; this does not distress me, I have no mania for
paternity myself. A hundred louis a year will satisfy me. By to-morrow
I must be Monsieur Coquet's successor and see my name on the list for
promotion in the Legion of Honor at the July fetes, or else--the
documentary evidence and my charge against you will be laid before the
Bench. I am not so hard to deal with after all, you see."
"Bless me, and such a pretty woman!" said the Justice of the Peace to
the police constable. "What a loss to the world if she should go mad!"
"She is not mad," said the constable sententiously. The police is
always the incarnation of scepticism.--"Monsieur le Baron Hulot has
been caught by a trick," he added, loud enough for Valerie to hear
Valerie shot a flash from her eye which would have killed him on the
spot if looks could effect the vengeance they express. The
police-officer smiled; he had laid a snare, and the woman had fallen
into it. Marneffe desired his wife to go into the other room and clothe
herself decently, for he and the Baron had come to an agreement on all
points, and Hulot fetched his dressing-gown and came out again.
"Gentlemen," said he to the two officials, "I need not impress on you
to be secret."
The functionaries bowed.
The police-officer rapped twice on the door; his clerk came in, sat
down at the "bonheur-du-jour," and wrote what the constable dictated
to him in an undertone. Valerie still wept vehemently. When she was
dressed, Hulot went into the other room and put on his clothes.
Meanwhile the report was written.
Marneffe then wanted to take his wife home; but Hulot, believing that
he saw her for the last time, begged the favor of being allowed to
speak with her.
"Monsieur, your wife has cost me dear enough for me to be allowed to
say good-bye to her--in the presence of you all, of course."
Valerie went up to Hulot, and he whispered in her ear:
"There is nothing left for us but to fly, but how can we correspond?
We have been betrayed--"
"Through Reine," she answered. "But my dear friend, after this scandal
we can never meet again. I am disgraced. Besides, you will hear
dreadful things about me--you will believe them--"
The Baron made a gesture of denial.
"You will believe them, and I can thank God for that, for then perhaps
you will not regret me."
"He will /not/ die a second-class clerk!" said Marneffe to Hulot, as
he led his wife away, saying roughly, "Come, madame; if I am foolish
to you, I do not choose to be a fool to others."
Valerie left the house, Crevel's Eden, with a last glance at the
Baron, so cunning that he thought she adored him. The Justice of the
Peace gave Madame Marneffe his arm to the hackney coach with a
flourish of gallantry. The Baron, who was required to witness the
report, remained quite bewildered, alone with the police-officer. When
the Baron had signed, the officer looked at him keenly, over his
"You are very sweet on the little lady, Monsieur le Baron?"
"To my sorrow, as you see."
"Suppose that she does not care for you?" the man went on, "that she
is deceiving you?"
"I have long known that, monsieur--here, in this very spot, Monsieur
Crevel and I told each other----"
"Oh! Then you knew that you were in Monsieur le Maire's private
The constable lightly touched his hat with a respectful gesture.
"You are very much in love," said he. "I say no more. I respect an
inveterate passion, as a doctor respects an inveterate complaint.--I
saw Monsieur de Nucingen, the banker, attacked in the same way--"
"He is a friend of mine," said the Baron. "Many a time have I supped
with his handsome Esther. She was worth the two million francs she
"And more," said the officer. "That caprice of the old Baron's cost
four persons their lives. Oh! such passions as these are like the
"What had you to say to me?" asked the Baron, who took this indirect
warning very ill.
"Oh! why should I deprive you of your illusions?" replied the officer.
"Men rarely have any left at your age!"
"Rid me of them!" cried the Councillor.
"You will curse the physician later," replied the officer, smiling.
"I beg of you, monsieur."
"Well, then, that woman was in collusion with her husband."
"Yes, sir, and so it is in two cases out of every ten. Oh! we know it
"What proof have you of such a conspiracy?"
"In the first place, the husband!" said the other, with the calm
acumen of a surgeon practised in unbinding wounds. "Mean speculation
is stamped in every line of that villainous face. But you, no doubt,
set great store by a certain letter written by that woman with regard
to the child?"
"So much so, that I always have it about me," replied Hulot, feeling
in his breast-pocket for the little pocketbook which he always kept
"Leave your pocketbook where it is," said the man, as crushing as a
thunder-clap. "Here is the letter.--I now know all I want to know.
Madame Marneffe, of course, was aware of what that pocketbook
"She alone in the world."
"So I supposed.--Now for the proof you asked for of her collusion with
"Let us hear!" said the Baron, still incredulous.
"When we came in here, Monsieur le Baron, that wretched creature
Marneffe led the way, and he took up this letter, which his wife, no
doubt, had placed on this writing-table," and he pointed to the
/bonheur-du-jour/. "That evidently was the spot agreed upon by the
couple, in case she should succeed in stealing the letter while you
were asleep; for this letter, as written to you by the lady, is,
combined with those you wrote to her, decisive evidence in a
He showed Hulot the note that Reine had delivered to him in his
private room at the office.
"It is one of the documents in the case," said the police-agent;
"return it to me, monsieur."
"Well, monsieur," replied Hulot with bitter expression, "that woman is
profligacy itself in fixed ratios. I am certain at this moment that
she has three lovers."
"That is perfectly evident," said the officer. "Oh, they are not all
on the streets! When a woman follows that trade in a carriage and a
drawing-room, and her own house, it is not a case for francs and
centimes, Monsieur le Baron. Mademoiselle Esther, of whom you spoke,
and who poisoned herself, made away with millions.--If you will take
my advice, you will get out of it, monsieur. This last little game
will have cost you dear. That scoundrel of a husband has the law on
his side. And indeed, but for me, that little woman would have caught
"Thank you, monsieur," said the Baron, trying to maintain his dignity.
"Now we will lock up; the farce is played out, and you can send your
key to Monsieur the Mayor."
Hulot went home in a state of dejection bordering on helplessness, and
sunk in the gloomiest thoughts. He woke his noble and saintly wife,
and poured into her heart the history of the past three years, sobbing
like a child deprived of a toy. This confession from an old man young
in feeling, this frightful and heart-rending narrative, while it
filled Adeline with pity, also gave her the greatest joy; she thanked
Heaven for this last catastrophe, for in fancy she saw the husband
settled at last in the bosom of his family.
"Lisbeth was right," said Madame Hulot gently and without any useless
recrimination, "she told us how it would be."
"Yes. If only I had listened to her, instead of flying into a rage,
that day when I wanted poor Hortense to go home rather than compromise
the reputation of that--Oh! my dear Adeline, we must save Wenceslas.
He is up to his chin in that mire!"
"My poor old man, the respectable middle-classes have turned out no
better than the actresses," said Adeline, with a smile.
The Baroness was alarmed at the change in her Hector; when she saw him
so unhappy, ailing, crushed under his weight of woes, she was all
heart, all pity, all love; she would have shed her blood to make Hulot
"Stay with us, my dear Hector. Tell me what is it that such women do
to attract you so powerfully. I too will try. Why have you not taught
me to be what you want? Am I deficient in intelligence? Men still
think me handsome enough to court my favor."
Many a married woman, attached to her duty and to her husband, may
here pause to ask herself why strong and affectionate men, so
tender-hearted to the Madame Marneffes, do not take their wives for
the object of their fancies and passions, especially wives like the
Baronne Adeline Hulot.
This is, indeed, one of the most recondite mysteries of human nature.
Love, which is debauch of reason, the strong and austere joy of a
lofty soul, and pleasure, the vulgar counterfeit sold in the
market-place, are two aspects of the same thing. The woman who can
satisfy both these devouring appetites is as rare in her sex as a great
general, a great writer, a great artist, a great inventor in a nation.
A man of superior intellect or an idiot--a Hulot or a Crevel--equally
crave for the ideal and for enjoyment; all alike go in search of the
mysterious compound, so rare that at last it is usually found to be a
work in two volumes. This craving is a depraved impulse due to
Marriage, no doubt, must be accepted as a tie; it is life, with its
duties and its stern sacrifices on both parts equally. Libertines, who
seek for hidden treasure, are as guilty as other evil-doers who are
more hardly dealt with than they. These reflections are not a mere
veneer of moralizing; they show the reason of many unexplained
misfortunes. But, indeed, this drama points its own moral--or morals,
for they are of many kinds.
The Baron presently went to call on the Marshal Prince de Wissembourg,
whose powerful patronage was now his only chance. Having dwelt under
his protection for five-and-thirty years, he was a visitor at all
hours, and would be admitted to his rooms as soon as he was up.
"Ah! How are you, my dear Hector?" said the great and worthy leader.
"What is the matter? You look anxious. And yet the session is ended.
One more over! I speak of that now as I used to speak of a campaign.
And indeed I believe the newspapers nowadays speak of the sessions as
"We have been in difficulties, I must confess, Marshal; but the times
are hard!" said Hulot. "It cannot be helped; the world was made so.
Every phase has its own drawbacks. The worst misfortunes in the year
1841 is that neither the King nor the ministers are free to act as
The Marshal gave Hulot one of those eagle flashes which in its pride,
clearness, and perspicacity showed that, in spite of years, that lofty
soul was still upright and vigorous.
"You want me to so something for you?" said he, in a hearty tone.
"I find myself under the necessity of applying to you for the
promotion of one of my second clerks to the head of a room--as a
personal favor to myself--and his advancement to be officer of the
Legion of Honor."
"What is his name?" said the Marshal, with a look like a lightning
"He has a pretty wife; I saw her on the occasion of your daughter's
marriage.--If Roger--but Roger is away!--Hector, my boy, this is
concerned with your pleasures. What, you still indulge--? Well, you
are a credit to the old Guard. That is what comes of having been in
the Commissariat; you have reserves!--But have nothing to do with this
little job, my dear boy; it is too strong of the petticoat to be good
"No, Marshal; it is bad business, for the police courts have a finger
in it. Would you like to see me go there?"
"The devil!" said the Prince uneasily. "Go on!"
"Well, I am in the predicament of a trapped fox. You have always been
so kind to me, that you will, I am sure, condescend to help me out of
the shameful position in which I am placed."
Hulot related his misadventures, as wittily and as lightly as he
"And you, Prince, will you allow my brother to die of grief, a man you
love so well; or leave one of your staff in the War Office, a
Councillor of State, to live in disgrace. This Marneffe is a wretched
creature; he can be shelved in two or three years."
"How you talk of two or three years, my dear fellow!" said the
"But, Prince, the Imperial Guard is immortal."
"I am the last of the first batch of Marshals," said the Prince.
"Listen, Hector. You do not know the extent of my attachment to you;
you shall see. On the day when I retire from office, we will go
together. But you are not a Deputy, my friend. Many men want your
place; but for me, you would be out of it by this time. Yes, I have
fought many a pitched battle to keep you in it.--Well, I grant you
your two requests; it would be too bad to see you riding the bar at
your age and in the position you hold. But you stretch your credit a
little too far. If this appointment gives rise to discussion, we shall
not be held blameless. I can laugh at such things; but you will find
it a thorn under your feet. And the next session will see your
dismissal. Your place is held out as a bait to five or six influential
men, and you have been enabled to keep it solely by the force of my
arguments. I tell you, on the day when you retire, there will be five
malcontents to one happy man; whereas, by keeping you hanging on by a
thread for two or three years, we shall secure all six votes. There
was a great laugh at the Council meeting; the Veteran of the Old
Guard, as they say, was becoming desperately wide awake in
parliamentary tactics! I am frank with you.--And you are growing gray;
you are a happy man to be able to get into such difficulties as these!
How long is it since I--Lieutenant Cottin--had a mistress?"
He rang the bell.
"That police report must be destroyed," he added.
"Monseigneur, you are as a father to me! I dared not mention my
anxiety on that point."
"I still wish I had Roger here," cried the Prince, as Mitouflet, his
groom of the chambers, came in. "I was just going to send for him!
--You may go, Mitouflet.--Go you, my dear old fellow, go and have the
nomination made out; I will sign it. At the same time, that low
schemer will not long enjoy the fruit of his crimes. He will be
sharply watched, and drummed out of the regiment for the smallest
fault.--You are saved this time, my dear Hector; take care for the
future. Do not exhaust your friends' patience. You shall have the
nomination this morning, and your man shall get his promotion in the
Legion of Honor.--How old are you now?"
"Within three months of seventy."
"What a scapegrace!" said the Prince, laughing. "It is you who deserve
a promotion, but, by thunder! we are not under Louis XV.!"
Such is the sense of comradeship that binds the glorious survivors of
the Napoleonic phalanx, that they always feel as if they were in camp
together, and bound to stand together through thick and thin.
"One more favor such as this," Hulot reflected as he crossed the
courtyard, "and I am done for!"
The luckless official went to Baron de Nucingen, to whom he now owed a
mere trifle, and succeeded in borrowing forty thousand francs, on his
salary pledged for two years more; the banker stipulated that in the
event of Hulot's retirement on his pension, the whole of it should be
devoted to the repayment of the sum borrowed till the capital and
interest were all cleared off.
This new bargain, like the first, was made in the name of Vauvinet, to
whom the Baron signed notes of hand to the amount of twelve thousand
On the following day, the fateful police report, the husband's charge,
the letters--all the papers--were destroyed. The scandalous promotion
of Monsieur Marneffe, hardly heeded in the midst of the July fetes,
was not commented on in any newspaper.
Lisbeth, to all appearance at war with Madame Marneffe, had taken up
her abode with Marshal Hulot. Ten days after these events, the banns
of marriage were published between the old maid and the distinguished
old officer, to whom, to win his consent, Adeline had related the
financial disaster that had befallen her Hector, begging him never to
mention it to the Baron, who was, as she said, much saddened, quite
depressed and crushed.
"Alas! he is as old as his years," she added.
So Lisbeth had triumphed. She was achieving the object of her
ambition, she would see the success of her scheme, and her hatred
gratified. She delighted in the anticipated joy of reigning supreme
over the family who had so long looked down upon her. Yes, she would
patronize her patrons, she would be the rescuing angel who would dole
out a livelihood to the ruined family; she addressed herself as
"Madame la Comtesse" and "Madame la Marechale," courtesying in front
of a glass. Adeline and Hortense should end their days in struggling
with poverty, while she, a visitor at the Tuileries, would lord it in
the fashionable world.
A terrible disaster overthrew the old maid from the social heights
where she so proudly enthroned herself.